Some may argue that it's inappropriate to celebrate right now in Big Sur, an area still ravaged physically and emotionally following last month's devastating Pfeiffer Fire.

But the organizers of the second annual Big Sur Foragers Festival (Jan. 17-19) see things differently. The event is planned as a salute to the land and its bounty, and to the undying spirit of the folks who call the wild southland home.

"Despite what happened there's an overhanging vibration of good feelings and how people came together in their hope and belief in our ability to rebuild," said chef Matt Glazer of the Big Sur Roadhouse, a building that served as a crisis center (and what Glazer called "Big Sur's living room") during the pre-Christmas fire that destroyed 34 homes. "People are still meeting here, with family, with insurance brokers. It's been an emotional rollercoaster."

Glazer believes it's time to pause as a community to give thanks...and give money to the Big Sur Health Center, the local nonprofit instrumental in the lives of locals before, during and after the fire.

"I can't imagine life in Big Sur without the health center, which provides so many services regardless of an individual's ability to pay," said Glazer.

While the Pfeiffer Fire may have caught residents unaware in the middle of the night, the immediate help and support they received surprised no one within this close-knit community.


The Big Sur Health Center led the way in that assistance, treating firefighters and homeowners on the front lines and maintaining a critical community hot line that disseminated information.

"The health center is proud to have been a part of the team effort in assisting our friends and neighbors," said Sharen Carey, executive director of the BSHC. "This season, the main focus in the community was on supporting the fire victims — and rightfully so.

The Big Sur Foragers Festival, held Friday through Sunday at various locations, is a culinary exploration into the world of wild foods.
The Big Sur Foragers Festival, held Friday through Sunday at various locations, is a culinary exploration into the world of wild foods. (COURTESY OF JIM PINCKNEY)
As we move forward, the Foragers Festival becomes even more important in that 100 percent of proceeds will go directly to support the health center services that are so vital to this community, especially in times of emergencies and local disasters."

The Foragers Festival is a culinary exploration into the world of wild foods. There's not much to forage currently, however, and not necessarily because of the fire. The lack of rain this season has prevented the wild mushrooms from popping up on the normally verdant hills.

"While we'd love for there to be mushrooms, the original idea of the festival was not to be that limited and focused," said Glazer, one of the organizers of the event that grew out of the now-defunct Chanterelle Festival. "This event is about the bounty of Big Sur, and I'm sure all the chefs involved will come up with something special."

It all adds up to a weekend of gourmet food, premium wine and beer, entertainment, expert-led foraging hikes and a friendly chef competition with celebrity judges.

The event rolls out on Friday with "Firestone and Fungus" at the Big Sur Roadhouse. David Walker of Firestone-Walker Brewing Co. will be on hand to pair brews with Glazer's food.

"The dream was to have a bunch of mushrooms, some wild boar perhaps but, circumstances being what they are, it's come off a bit different."

The menu will include Glazer's NoBS Chili (a type of Creole carnitas with spicy beans), his Jewish grandmother's brisket (a week in brine, slow-cooked and seared) and more than a few surprises. Cost is $50 with reservation seating between 5:30-8 p.m.

Saturday brings the Wild Mushroom Walk and Talk at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and at Ventana Inn & Spa, led by expert foragers ($35), followed by the Fungus Face-Off on the deck at Ventana from 1-4 p.m. ($45).

The latter is a friendly competition among chefs from Ventana, Esalen, Hyatt Carmel Highlands, Big Sur Roadhouse, Big Sur Bakery, Fernwood Resort, Bernardus Lodge, Carmel Valley Ranch and Ripplewood.

At least a dozen wineries (among them Chappellet, Morgan, McIntyre and Pessagno) will keep glasses filled. A wine raffle could turn a $10 ticket into 30 bottles of wine in a personal wine barrel. Look for a silent auction as well.

Saturday night features the Grand Celebrity Chef Foragers Dinner at Ventana, with chef Ethan Stowell (Ethan Stowell Restaurants in Seattle) and chef Jason Wilson (Crush in Seattle) combining forces with former Ventana chef Philippe Breneman (The Lexington House, Los Gatos).

Stowell was named one of the Best New Chefs in America by Food & Wine in 2008, then chosen as a Best New Chef All-Star in 2013, and has been honored with multiple James Beard Award nominations for "Best Chef Northwest."

His food philosophy revolves around simplicity and excellent ingredients — a philosophy exemplified in his book "Ethan Stowell's New Italian Kitchen."

After graduating in 1995 from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, Wilson spent time in some of the most influential kitchens in the city, working with Albert Tordjman of the Flying Saucer, Michael Mina of Aqua and Jeremiah Tower of Stars.

Wilson has worked through the world, most notably in Singapore and France. He eventually settled in Seattle, where he met life and business partner Nicole Wilson, with whom he opened Crush in 2005.

Breneman returns to Ventana as the guest host chef following the departure of longtime executive chef Truman Jones. The multicourse dinner, paired with wine, costs $175.

The final weekend event circles back to the Big Sur Roadhouse with a Glazer-led brunch. Tickets for all events can be purchased at ForagersTickets. For more information go to

Mike Hale can be reached at GO!


What: Second annual Big Sur Foragers Festival
Where: Throughout Big Sur
When: Friday-Sunday, Jan. 17-19